Greek Civil Code
1. Historical predecessors
The history of Greek law is as old as the history of the Greek people. Its beginnings date back some 3,000 years. The time before the modern Greek Civil Code (Astikos Kodikas) can be divided into six periods. (i) The ancient period ends with the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and is characterized by the autonomous law of the poleis, ie the various city states that were founded within the borders of ancient Greece. During this time the first legal codifications and law courts appeared. (ii) The following Hellenistic period reaches into the 4th century AD. During this period Greek legal thought spread beyond the borders of ancient Greece. Simultaneously, it intermingled with Roman law creating the ius graeco-romanum. (iii) In the Byzantine epoch lasting until the fall of Constantinople in 1453 the Roman-Byzantine law developed. Efforts to codify the existing law intensified. Most noteworthy are the codifications under the Emperors Theodosius II (Codex Theodosianus) and Justinian I (Corpus Juris Civilis, Novellae). (iv) In 1345 a private collection of the Roman-Byzantine laws was published by the judge Konstantin Armenopoulos from Thessaloniki. The collection consisted of six books and therefore became known as the Hexabiblos. It was to be used later as the foundation for the creation of the Greek Civil Code. (v) Under the reign of the Ottoman Empire from 1453 to 1821, both Turkish and Byzantine law were in force, the latter being applied by ecclesiastical courts. (vi) After the liberation of Greece, in 1833 Otto, prince of Bavaria, ascended the throne of the newly founded Greek kingdom. Of major importance was the regulation ‘On the Civil Code’ from 23 February/7 March 1835 calling for the creation of a codified civil law. Moreover, the regulation stipulated the Hexabiblos of Armenopoulos to be the interim law and ordered the continued applicability of existing customary laws. At the same time several Greek regions passed their own civil codes. On the Ionian Isles, for example, the Ionian Civil Code was enacted in 1841. The code was based on Sicilian law and written in Italian, which was at the time the region’s official language. Similar codifications were passed by the islands of Samos (1899) and Crete (1904).
2. Origins of the modern Greek Civil Code
At the beginning of the 20th century legal chaos reigned. The outdated and fragmented Hexabiblos was still applied while, at the same time, a multitude of new laws regarding particular subjects such as labour and banking law already existed. In addition there were various regional codifications. Because of the resulting legal uncertainty, in 1930 the government of Venizelos charged a commission composed of five members with drafting a uniform civil codification. Based on preliminary drafts, the final draft, consisting of 2,035 articles, was written by the law professor and commission member, Georgios Balis. His text was published in 1940. Due to Italy’s attack on Greece, the Civil Code did not come into effect until 1946. By the enactment of the Civil Code, Greece finally achieved legal unity after more than 100 years. At the same time the Hexabiblos, the customary laws, and the regional codifications became ineffective.
The Greek Civil Code was largely influenced by the German Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch (BGB). Greek lawyers’ first contact with German legal thinking took place during the rule of King Otto who was surrounded by a number of German lawyers, among them Georg Ludwig von Maurer, Gottfried Feder and Emil Herzog. Otto’s goal was to continue the efforts for a codification of Greek law that had begun under Ioannis Kapodistrias, Greece’s first head of state after gaining independence from Ottoman rule. The influence of German legal thought was facilitated by the fact that both German and modern Greek law share the same Roman legal tradition. Besides the BGB, the Greek Civil Code was influenced by the French, Swiss and Italian Civil Codes (Code civil, Swiss Civil Code (ZGB), Codice civile). Since its enactment, the Greek Civil Code has been subject to a number of reforms, especially in the fields of family law and the law of obligations, to meet the requirements of modern-day life.
3. Structure and content
The Greek Civil Code, like its model the German BGB, consists of five books, comprising the general part, the law of obligations, the law of property (property), family law (family) and the law of succession (succession law).
a) General part
The first book ranges from Arts 1 to 286 and contains all the legal concepts common to the entire code (general part). In addition, it includes the rules of Greek private international law (PIL) (Arts 4–33). Every human being enjoys rights and obligations and is vested with legal capacity (Art 34). German law’s distinction between natural persons and legal persons is expressed in Arts 34–60 and Arts 61–126, respectively. Article 2 (1) of the Greek constitution protects human dignity. From this guarantee, Art 57 of the Greek Civil Code derives a general right to protection of one’s personality according to which anyone whose personality right is infringed may seek injunctive relief and compensation for damages from the perpetrator. The right of personality also covers the right to protection of one’s privacy, including protection against surveillance measures and unauthorized photographs. Arts 158–166 deal with formal requirements for legal transactions (juridical act). Unless otherwise provided by the parties or by an express statutory order, legal transactions do not require any specific form. Other subjects covered by the first book include the interpretation of contracts (Arts 185–200), representation (Arts 211–235) and prescription and preclusion periods (Arts 247–280).
b) Law of obligations
The Greek Civil Code’s second book (Arts 287–946) closely resembles the German BGB, with some deviations found in the law of delict. Arts 287–495 contain general rules applicable to the law of obligations in its entirety, including rules on the impossibility of performance, default of the debtor and the creditor, the right to terminate, assignment, penalty clauses and contracts in favour of a third party. Arts 496–946 contain the specific law of obligations including rules on the individual types of contractual obligations. Article 914 with its broad wording is central to the law of torts. According to this sweeping provision anyone who intentionally or negligently causes damages to another person is liable for compensation. Unlike its counterpart in § 823 (1) BGB, no violation of an absolute right is required.
c) Law of property
The third book is based on Roman-Byzantine law and was also influenced by several European codifications, in particular the BGB. The general provisions on legal objects (Arts 947–973) are followed by rules on possession (Arts 947–998) and the content (Arts 999–1093) and protection (Arts 1094–1112) of ownership. Additional provisions relate to easements (Arts 1118–1191), liens on movables (Arts 1209–1256) and mortgages (Arts 1257–1345).
d) Family law
The fourth book on family law contains provisions on engagement, marriage, matrimonial property, divorce, maintenance, adoption and guardianship. Since the Civil Code came into effect, Greek family law has been the subject of far-reaching revisions. One important reform concerned the introduction of civil marriage in 1982. However, marriage ceremonies performed by the church have remained a valid legal alternative. Another crucial reform was effected in 1983 by Law 1329, which asserted gender equality in family law. In 2002 the modern evolution of reproductive medicine led to the adoption of Law 3089, introducing Arts 1455 ff, which amongst other topics deal with artificial insemination.
e) Succession law
The Civil Code’s fifth book contains the rules pertaining to the law of succession. In their structure, the relevant Arts 1710–2035 closely resemble the BGB. Like its German counterpart, the Greek Civil Code guarantees freedom of testation, which means that every person is free to decide on the fate of his estate in the event of his death. The principle of universal succession (devolution of the inheritance/universal succession) is also known in Greek law (Art 1710). In case the deceased has left no final will or his or her will is invalid, the rules on intestate succession apply; they bear great resemblance to the BGB’s provisions. The provisions on the protection of heirs against over-indebtedness of the estate (Arts 1901 ff) and on donation mortis causa (Arts 2032 ff) are rooted in Roman-Byzantine law.
4. The Greek Civil Code today
The long history of the Greek Civil Code demonstrates that Greek law has been the subject of constant transformation and has resulted from continuing influences by external and internal forces. It has adjusted to the social, political and economic requirements of the respective times. The evolution of Greek private law is not over. Nowadays the influence of European and international law on Greek private law in general and the Greek Civil Code in particular is increasing. For example, the Civil Code’s rules on the seller’s liability for defects in the object of sale were very similar to German law before the reforms of 2002. However, EU Directive 99/44 of 25 May 1999 on certain aspects of the sale of consumer goods and associated guarantees, implemented by Law 3043/2002, has not only fundamentally changed the Civil Code’s relevant provisions (Arts 534–537, 540–561) but has also led to an adjustment to European law. In all likelihood, the influence of German law on Greek private law is bound to decrease in the long run.
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